Words by: Tess Kent Art by: Carla J. Romana
I’m sitting in my first-year marketing class. The term ‘sitting in’ is a bit of a stretch, given that it’s 2020 and all of my classes have been shifted to this peculiar platform called Zoom. We’re learning about the premise of cost/sacrifice value and I’m half paying attention, thinking about whether or not I need to remember this information for this week’s Moodle quiz. Yet, fast forward to two years later and now every day I live the eternal struggle of evaluating the cost/sacrifice value of my silly little $6.50 almond latte.
Growing up over the last decade, I’ve seen my older sister conquer university. I heard all about the Mi Goreng dinners, cheap bar nights, and the infamous cases of bin diving for food. I knew when it was my turn to be a university student that it was going to be tough, but I didn’t expect it to be that tough.
Living out of home comes with its menial and unrelenting responsibilities. Further, working part time and making sure to rock up to your tutorials each week comes with its own pressures. But then, your friend Bella is messaging you to grab drinks tonight. It’s also your dad’s birthday next week and you haven’t bought him a present yet. Rent is due in a fortnight too, and so is your internet bill — or was that the gas bill? By the way, your car rego just arrived in the mail.
It’s exhausting. As students, we’re constantly met with the demands of each of our subjects and assignments. Social commitments pop up constantly and we’re being encouraged to go and enjoy the ‘best years of our lives!’. Everything is a persistent struggle between cost and sacrifice — if I don’t get an extra vodka lime soda tonight, I can afford coffee with Emilia on Sunday.
The cost of living is rising and we’re all feeling those existential woes. The word ‘inflation’ has been the buzzword for the past six months. I constantly feel like my local Coles is gaslighting me. I swear a carton of eggs didn’t cost that much last week?
As I begrudgingly pay an extra 50c for each of my grocery items, I like to think that in 10 years’ time I’ll be living some semblance of a financially secure life. The idea of financial security feels as foreign to me as when my housemate told me she was saving up for an investment property. It feels unattainably beyond the realm of possibility for me.
I imagine a life where I can buy organic fruits and vegetables; where owning a house is a reality, not a fever dream. It all sounds materialistic, but that’s the payoff of attending university, right? All this hard work is meant to help me feel financially secure one day. Hopefully.
Except that’s the grittiness of being a student — we all complain about being poor, spending too much and earning too little. Yet, everyone knows this stress differently. Some of us live week to week, some are full-fee-paying students with three jobs to afford their upcoming fee statement, and some live at home and have the help of family. It’s the unspoken taboo of university life, talking about money and how much we do or don’t have of it. Yet, at one point or another we will all hit a stage of finding 101 ways to jazz up packet noodles.
This struggle defines us in many ways. We cling to the hope that upon graduating, things will be easier. We’ll find that graduate job; we’ll have more disposable income to pay for those things we want rather than need (only I really do need that new Frank Green water bottle. It’s for emotional support, I swear).
I imagine a life where nothing is a matter of cost or sacrifice. I’m living in a world where my student loan is a distant memory. I can afford a weekly grocery shop that’s more than frozen veggies and packet rice. The dream of financial security extends beyond what I can put in my trolley each week; I hope that owning a house doesn’t seem like a ridiculous, untenable prospect, and maybe the conventionality of wanting a family will seem more appealing when backed by a stable income. The reality is, thinking about money sucks. After all, we are the generation who were offered to drain our superannuation as an option to afford a house deposit.
All that being said, thinking about standing there in my graduation gown and envisioning a grad offer waiting in my inbox gives me the hope that I’ll be walking into a life where money doesn’t consume my daily existence. Maybe the point of life is that we’ll never truly feel financially stable. Money really does come and go, and it’s important to remember we’ll only be 23 years old once — so spend that money on an exchange trip or blow your budget on the odd occasion for your mate’s birthday.
We’re young twenty-somethings who thrive on hope, and if that includes buying into the idea of being financially secure one day, then so be it. Inflation is only getting higher, so let’s just hope I can still afford my almond latte when it hits $7.50.